Down Comes the Wall

What makes this particular experience remarkable is that the kid, seven of his best friends have chosen to go to Berlin.

anti-Nazi demonstrators in Germnay 311 (photo credit: Antifa Westhavelland)
anti-Nazi demonstrators in Germnay 311
(photo credit: Antifa Westhavelland)
So the kid has finally finished high school and is off on his trip abroad in what has become a pre-army Israeli ritual of sorts. When I finished high school I got a fountain pen, and even that grudgingly given my marks.
What makes this particular experience remarkable, however, is that the kid and seven of his best friends, all together since kindergarten essentially, have chosen to go to Berlin of all places – and this hot on the heels of their collective school trip to the Nazi death camps just last year. The connection between a good time in Germany, and the Germans who put their families into gas ovens, it seems, could not be more remote.
Now these are thoughtful kids I’m speaking about, good students with good grades. Mine, for example, selected Jewish philosophy as one of his majors and loved it. They are all from Jerusalem, all connected in one way or another with youth movements, have read poems and lit candles on yom hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and stood in respectful silence as the sirens sounded.
They have been to Yad Vashem countless times, and have served soup to Survivors and cleaned their tables as part of their societal service at school. Their trips to Poland were preceded by a year of preparation on the Holocaust, including hearing first-hand accounts from those who came back from the hell wrought on mankind by Hitler’s Germany.
Yet, of all the places, they chose Berlin as their first stop on the path to independence and into adulthood, the thought that the grandfather of the bloke serving them beer in a Berlin pub may have made their grandfathers lick the pavement before being shot in the head, apparently meaning nothing.
Why are we surprised in a country where the first taxi to meet you at the airport will inevitably be a Mercedes, and where headlines have recently informed us that the Germans have agreed to give and pay for yet another submarine for the Israeli fleet, this one with reportedly nuclear-carrying capabilities.
And what could describe the situation better than a recent conversation with a good friend who had just survived remodeling his home in Jerusalem, not quite a genocidal process, but almost so. He had grown up in the US in a family that “never bought German” as the saying, almost a slogan, went in those days.
It took some doing, he said, to agree to install the German-made gas heating system, but it was the best by far, so he agreed. Then came his wife’s instance on a German-made gas oven, and he gave in. But when he noticed a German-made shower head had been installed, he freaked. It’s still there, by the way.
I don’t know whether the visit to Berlin is a poke in the eye of history, or a poke in the eye of the Germans, a statement of sorts: look at us, the heirs of the People you tried to wipe out, the future soldiers of the State of Israel, people who never again will be led like lambs to the slaughter.
Or is it just another sign of normalization, globalization, the end of barriers as heralded by the European Union, a borderless partnership of countries which, at the time of the Holocaust, were the most bitter of German enemies; that if the French and Germans can now live together, anyone can.
My son and his well-travelled elder brother tell me Berlin is a “cool place.” My nephew once served there in a diplomatic capacity and his entire family had a great time, constantly impressed by how post-war Germany had dealt with the Holocaust.
From my own experiences in Germany, I have gone from being physically ill on my first night there, while being served dinner in a Bavarian beer hall with traditional German music in the background performed by a merry orchestra with beer-red noses, and waiters dressed in traditional leather German breeches – lederhosen -- to wonderment at how the German people have coped with their past and molded their post-war future.
If the boy and his friends had been headed off to Vienna for a holiday, for example, I would be feeling a lot different about things. The Austrians continue to pretend the Holocaust had nothing to do with them. The Germans unarguably have atoned as no other modern nation for the sins of their fathers, perhaps because never in modern history has any other nation performed the atrocities committed by their fathers.
Encouragingly, in addition to looking at what Nazi Germany did to others, Germany today is also beginning to look at and understand the toll the Nazi regime took on Germany itself, this as a lesson lest it be repeated. Just think of the brains lost, the wealth destroyed, the manpower wasted, the deserts created, a country divided, and the indelible graves of the innocent marked forever on the foreheads of their fathers.
There is an interesting conversation to be had between our bartender (if German which is a big assumption anywhere in Germany today) and our kids, and I hope it takes place. They’ll probably find they have much in common: the European cup final; types of music I know nothing about; ‘cool’ places to hang out; micro-brewing and why cheese burgers have been medically proven to be bad for you.
They may even get round to discussing why they hate football hooligans and racism in sport, and argue about who is going to win what at the Olympics. I don’t know if they are going to say “cheers,” “lehayim” or “prost,” by the end of the evening, (hopefully not all three) but let’s all hope it is another link in the bond that ties two countries that share a troubled past, and youngsters who all deserve a better future.